Today we are back in Africa in the country of Algeria. Algeria sits in Northern Africa on the Mediterranean Sea. The majority of the population lives in the fertile coast of the North as the southern section of the country is covered almost entirely by the Sahara Desert. This is a land divided. The land feels about as opposite as our two political parties. As the days narrow in on this election I’m struck by just how challenging the weeks and months that follow will be, regardless of who is in office. The divide between people feels stronger than it ever has and I don’t know if that’s because I’m older for this election and understand things in a new way, or if this perfect storm of a contentious election, a global pandemic, and a fight against systemic racism is raising tensions in a way that doesn’t just feel like politics but like we are all fighting in our own ways for humanity.
A few nights ago I was reminded of the fundamental goodness of humans. Colin and I woke up to one of the loudest car crashes I have ever heard. We shot out of bed and from the window of our room we could see a car upside down in the middle of the road. I called 911 while Colin grabbed a fire extinguisher and ran to the road to see if anyone was still alive in the car. As my heart was pounding and adrenaline was coursing through my body I put on some shoes and went outside with the other neighbors who had gathered. It didn’t take long for four fire trucks, two police cars, and an ambulance to assemble. I know not all people are praying people, but as I stood wondering if anyone was alive, I turned to God in prayer.
I prayed for peace, for easing of pain, for the people who love the man in the car to be comforted. I prayed that he be alive and able to heal. At one point, I’m a bit embarrassed to admit, I found myself praying that he would survive no matter who he is voting for. And in that moment, amidst all of the lights and sirens I had a moment where everything felt less divisive. A moment where you see police, fire, and EMTs working together in a silent and systematic way. A moment where everyone just felt like people, people with a common goal. A moment when despite the tragedy, I had hope for the way communities and neighbors can come together even with opposing yard signs and ideologies for how life is to be lived. I don’t know if the man lived or died, but I do know that he was human.
All humans eat, and drink, and as I recently taught a potty training toddler, everybody poops. So while the nation is divided on what seems like every issue, there are some things we can all agree on. We need food and sometimes for me food can be the best comfort in trying days. From Algeria we made M’thouem, which is a staple in any Algerian cook’s repertoire. It’s a meatball that was cooked in a red sauce and came out incredibly tender and flavorful. We ate the meat over couscous, the national dish of Algeria, and found ourselves without leftovers—always a good sign of a great meal, and a little bit of a sad sign that I didn’t make enough to get to relive the flavors again the next day.
To make the meatballs I kneaded the meat and added water little by little until it was all absorbed and the meat was a delicate texture. After adding the spices I gently rolled them into balls and browned them in a frying pan. The recipe said the browning before adding to the sauce helps to maintain the structure of the ball when it is simmering. These meatballs definitely needed to be handled with care because they were fragile. The red sauce was simple with a base of water, a lot of garlic, tomato paste, spices, chickpeas, and almonds. For the couscous we just followed the directions on the bag, we didn’t add anything fancy because we just wanted a base for the meatballs. We followed the recipe of Henia who is a blogger in Algeria who chronicles her recipes at The Teal Tadjine.
As the election results unfold, I would urge us all to step back and enter into conversations and relationships with humility. Ask questions and thoughtfully listen to the answers. I think we can be kind and compassionate and still be bold enough to stand up for what we know is right. And when life just feels like too much to handle go to the kitchen and eat something delicious.